There are thousands of songs from the '30s, '40s, and '50s that are considered popular standards and Michael Feinstein has covered a good portion of them throughout his extensive career. On occasion, a more modern composition would slink its way into his repertoire, such as a tune by the prolific songwriter Jimmy Webb, whose numerous hits include "Wichita Lineman" and "MacArthur Park." Eschewing traditional pop standards, Feinstein has collaborated with Webb to record his first full album of modern pop songs, Only One Life: The Songs of Jimmy Webb. While mainly focusing on Webb's lesser-known gems, along with a few previously unrecorded songs, Feinstein hones his cabaret-style of performance into a hushed subtlety that ultimately benefits him as well as these impeccably crafted songs. Feinstein has always been one of the most romantic vocalists of the genre, able to express lyrical meanings without overly emoting, and that serves this song cycle of love, loss, and regret remarkably well. His voice simply tells you the story with a quiet yearning sprinkled with sadness that comforts rather than depresses. Although Webb's enduring hit song "Didn't We" has withstood countless versions, it is doubtful that any could compare to Feinstein's sensitive interpretation. The quiet piano strains and Feinstein's reflective vocals tenderly deliver the song's bittersweet meaning as if being recorded for the very first time. Up-tempo tunes are banished in order to maintain the collection's moody air with even the sprightly 5th Dimension hit "Up, Up and Away" modestly held to a slight bossa nova groove that, once again, brings the lyrics to the forefront. This is not the first time Webb has approached his songs in this style, as he employed similar piano-based arrangements on the 1996 solo-disc Ten Easy Pieces, but his voice lacked the depth needed to properly interpret the lyrics. With Feinstein, Webb has found his muse and the perfect voice in which to showcase his compositions. Examples of this can be heard in the muted longing portrayed in the lullaby-like "She Moves, Eyes Follow" or the delicate sadness and sense of loss felt in the aftermath of a break-up in "Is There Love After You?" With each song, Feinstein envelopes the lyrics with a warmth and passion that sends these songs straight to the heart. At the onset, Only One Life may seem a bit depressing, but with each listen the melancholy lifts and is replaced by a reflection of past experiences that are revisited with a sense of nostalgia and solace. With their inspired collaboration, Webb and Feinstein have created a piece of work that stands as a great achievement within both of their long-standing careers and a perfect soundtrack for reminiscing about the days of love with a new understanding and, ultimately, a sense of hope.
AllMusic Review by Aaron Latham